Get Your Dose of Sleep

Sleep is nature's way of revitalising our mind, body, and spirit

SleepingEveryone requires a different amount of sleep. A baby may sleep for 14-15 hours a day, children 10-12 hours, and though you'd love to get your recommended quota of 7-8 hours of sleep, your lifestyle may not permit it.

The fact is everyone sleeps. Some sleep well, some toss up in bed and/or sleep for short spells, and some have disturbed, or total lack of sleep. Remember, this lovely Frank Sinatra song?

Sleep warm, sleep tight, when you turn off the light,
Sleep warm, sleep well, my love.
Rest your head on your pillow, what a lucky pillow,
Close to you, so close to you all night.
Sleep warm, sleep well, let dreams within you dwell,
Sweet dreams of me, my love.
Close your eyes now and kiss me, and whisper you miss me,
Sleep tight, sleep well, sleep warm.

Sinatra's song sure makes all of us go to sleep, whatever our form of sleep. As for those of us who don't - or can't - go to sleep, it also gives us hope.

There is yet another scenario. For some though, sleep can be a nightmare. They may ask themselves: wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to sleep? They have a strong reason not to sleep, because they just can't get enough sleep. Just think of all the things we could accomplish if we don't sleep, though we seldom do everything we think we can!

You'd, perhaps, be a Superman or Superwoman, if you didn't sleep! But, this isn't the case in reality.

Hence, the big question that does not have a ready answer: why do we need sleep, and what happens to us if we don't get adequate sleep?

It isn't as simple as it sounds, but the best way to understand why we sleep is to look at what happens when we don't get enough sleep.

  • If you miss a night's sleep, you won't end up in the Intensive Care Unit [ICU]. But, lack of sleep is going to make you feel tired and ill-tempered, the following day. It may also slow you down
  • If you miss two nights of sleep, it gets bad. You will find it difficult to concentrate on work. Your attention span goes for a toss. The number of errors, or misjudgements, you make will only increase
  • If you don't sleep for three, four, or more days, you will start to have "delusions." Your clarity of thought and reasoning can now get affected
  • If your sleep is disturbed for an extended period of time, you may lose your grip on reality.

A person who manages to sleep, only for short periods, every night, can also present with major problems in the long-term. This is proof enough why sleep is fundamental to healthy living and wellbeing.

Need for sleep

Though none of us, including researchers, really know, there is enough scientific evidence on why all of us need sleep:

  • Sleep gives the body the opportunity to repair the body, the muscles and other tissues; it also replaces aging or dead cells
  • Sleep gives the brain a chance to organise and document memories. Dreams are known to be a part of this activity.
  • A good dose of sleep lowers our energy consumption. This is reason enough why we need three meals a day rather than 4-5. Logically, since we can't do anything in the dark, we might as well "turn off the switch" as it were, and save valuable energy.

There are other important things that happen during sleep. For example, growth hormones in children are secreted during sleep. These chemicals are vital to the immune system. Lack of sleep, over a period of time, can affect a child's growth. Likewise, long-term sleep loss can lead to health disorders, including heart disease, in sleepless adults.

Signal to relax

Sleep is nature's way of "revving-up" up the brain. The brain uses adenosine, a chemical, as a signal that the brain needs rest. Studies suggest that adenosine secretion reflects brain-cell activity. Rising adenosine levels may be one way of telling how the body figures out that it has been burning its energy reserves and needs to shut them down for a while. It may also be mentioned that adenosine levels in the brain rise during our wakeful state and decline during sleep.

To deal with sleeplessness, one needs to relearn good sleeping habits. This is of paramount importance to sleep well and/or improve your quantity and quality of sleep.

  • Make your bedroom conducive to sleep
  • Banish radio, TV, newspapers, books, files, or anything that is work-related
  • Make sure your bedroom is adequately dark
  • Use thick curtains, if you are woken up in the early hours of the morning by sunlight
  • Make sure your bed is firm enough to support you and soft enough to be comfortable
  • Keep a writing pad and pencil by the bedside to record worries that affect you as you are trying to fall asleep. This is a useful technique to tackle the problem as to what it is that keeps you wide awake
  • Try to go to bed the same time each night; get up in the morning, at the same time, every day
  • Cut out or avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol
  • Take sleeping pills, on a doctor's prescription, to break your sleepless cycle. Avoid taking them for more than two weeks. Speak to your doctor if you'd like, or need, to take them for longer periods
  • There is no need to worry if you find yourself sleeping less with age - all of us sleep less as we get older
  • Try relaxing techniques, such as relaxing the muscles and breathing deeply from the diaphragm before going to bed. It can help ease sleeplessness
  • Use aromatherapy [lavender oil] and herbs such as passion flower [Passiflora incarnata] under the guidance of a therapist. They may give you relief from stress and help you sleep better - naturally. That is, without the side-effects of commonly-used prescription medicines
  • Remember, the after-effects of short-term sleeplessness are not enjoyable; but, they are not always seriously injurious to your health and wellbeing. Because, you will fall asleep eventually. However, if you don't, for whatever reason, it's time you sought professional help.

To cut a long story short. A good night's sleep makes you feel fresh, the following day. More importantly, your brain, mind and body also feel re-energised and ready to get going for a vibrant new day.

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Rajgopal Nidamboor
Rajgopal Nidamboor, a trained physician, is a writer, commentator, and author. In a career spanning 25 years, Nidamboor has published over 2,000 articles, on a variety of subjects, two coffee table books, an E-book, and a primer on therapeutics, aside from an encyclopaedic treatise on Indian philosophy.

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